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Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Oregon Coast Part II: The Campgrounds

The long beach of Cape Blanco

Oregon is a funny state.

For us, it's always been our "drive-over" state: we've crossed it in one day on our way to Alaska, Idaho, and of course Washington; we've dipped in and out when traveling in the most northern parts of California and along the western edge of Idaho. I feel bad we haven't taken the time to explore it more thoroughly because it truly is a beautiful place.

It's quirky too. As of January 1, 2018, Oregon passed a law allowing you to pump your own gas in certain areas. Yes, you read that right, Oregon had a ban on self-serve gas pumps, and still does for most of the state. And I tell you, nothing feels as emasculating as sitting in your full size 4x4 truck with 4" lift kit, winch bumper and heavy duty brush guards while an elderly woman struggles to lift the pump high enough to reach the gas filler. The state has various reasons not to allow the average citizen to pump their own: health hazard, fire hazard, and requiring proper training are a few. All I know is if all gas stations in Oregon suddenly went fully self-serve tomorrow, there would be a steep learning curve for many. Twice I saw big burly guys standing bewildered in front of the pump, not sure where to put their credit card. The elderly attendant helped one of them, gently taking the card out of the guy's hand and sliding it through the reader. She was kind about it, but I believe I saw a hint of a smirk on her face.

We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowds in Oregon. We were dumbstruck to find an open campsite on a holiday weekend, a feat that could never happen in California. Finding a campsite without a reservation in our home state anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day is a frustrating and discouraging experience. Unless you know where and when you want to be and have the forethought to reserve a site six months in advance, you are out of luck. Far too many people and not enough campgrounds make for a sad trip if you're not prepared to camp off the grid–if you can even find a place that allows that. (Unfortunately, there are now more restrictions on camping on BLM and National Forest lands for various reasons we won't get into here. Far too depressing.)

Oregon State Parks rely on volunteers to host the campgrounds and from what we saw, they take their jobs very seriously. There are rules to camping which most people follow on their own. Oh sure, over the years we've occasionally had trouble with people using generators during quiet hours and maybe a few groups that get a little loud around a campfire. Never have I felt more confident that our camp neighbors would be good citizens than in Oregon. We were greeted when we rolled in, handed the rules when we paid, checked on 10 minutes after setting up, and hailed every half hour by the old guy in the golf cart "just checking up on things." The place was spotless and organized and patrolled as closely as any military zone.

It feels funny to write this (being pretty close to a member of this group ourselves) but it was strange to travel in a place where the predominant population is in the "white retirement age" demographic. The lack of diversity is jarring at first. We wandered into the full campground on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, walked the loops and realized there was not one group or individual of any shade of anything but white there. And the average age of the campers, if I had to guess, was 62. An interesting development for a state that boasts the proud city of Portland, an urban area of young professionals that can out-liberal San Francisco on a good day, well known for it's free-thinkers and inclusivity (is that a word? If so they coined it in Portland).

We camped every night of the trip, a total of 6 nights in 6 different campgrounds in Oregon, and every one was run the same way. Each had at least two hosts for campground duty, and in one we counted six designated host campsites, resplendent with fifth wheel trailers, temporary fencing for small barking dogs, decorative wind socks and reclining camp chairs on astroturf rugs. While it seemed a bit like overkill, we appreciated the fact that they cared so much for the parks because it really showed. Not a spec of trash anywhere, and thoughtful hosts were willing to answer any question we had. It was a lovely experience, so much so that we wouldn't mind going back every year. Here's a rundown of the campgrounds we visited:

Alfred A. Loeb State Park

Our first stop in Oregon just outside Brookings, just on the other side of the California state line. Located along the Chetco River, it's a pretty park with river access for boats, swimming and fishing. There's a nice little nature trail loop and driving access to the river bank if you feel you must drive onto the gravel beach. Being a holiday weekend, several families in big trucks were parked along the beach and had set up umbrellas and barbecues for a picnic. It was surprisingly hot that day; once we drove even a few miles east on Chetco River Road away from the coast the weather turned uncomfortably warm.

The dogs hopped out of the truck and assumed the camping position. They enjoyed their time at Alfred A. Loeb State Park.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park

A beautiful campground tucked in the trees in the hills above the ocean. You couldn't see the beach from there, but that was a blessing in disguise; the adjacent Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and beach was open to ATVs and the hill that separated us from them blocked the whining engine noises. There was a pretty little lake accessible by trail from the campground. After dinner that night, we walked the trail all the way around and had it mostly to ourselves. In fact, we pretty much had the whole campground to ourselves.

The lighthouse and visitor's center is a short drive from the campground. You could walk, but to my knowledge there was no trail so you'd have to take your chances on the narrow road. Same story with the beach access.

Lake Marie, accessible directly from the campground at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
There was a nice trail that ran around the lake, as shown by Hiker Mark.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
Trask River County Campground, Tillamook County

We were looking for a campground as close as possible to our northernmost goal: the Tillamook Cheese factory. We wanted to be close enough to get there around opening time, stuff ourselves with cheese and ice cream, then dart back out to the coast to get into Cape Lookout campground before it filled up. It's a great spot along the Trask River, which actually runs along the backside of the campsites. We found ourselves the only ones there, so chose the very best spot along the river. Our only complaint was the extravagant fees they charged. The river sites were $37.83, and we were expected to add tax, and an extra $6.00 fee PER DOG. That came to a grand total of $53.58 for the pleasure of a pit toilet, water faucet (across the campground) and a beat up wooden picnic table. It was almost worth it to have the place to ourselves, but with those prices they could've offered hors d'oeuvres or something...

Our lonely campsite in Trask River Campground. It was quiet, that's for sure.

The Trask River runs through it. Pools along the river behind our campsite.

Cape Lookout State Park

This was Mark's favorite campground of the trip. Situated on a sand spit between Netarts Bay and the ocean, it's a pleasant mix of sand, trees, hiking trails and warm sandy beach. The dogs had a great time too, since in Oregon they allow leashed dogs on both hiking trails and on the beach (another California no-no in most places). There is a choice of forested and sandy dune sites, and it's a short walk to either the beach or trailheads that lead to Cape Lookout point. This park is only one and a half hours from Portland, which must have accounted for the crowds–we got one of the last sites when we pulled in at noon–so reservations during peak season are probably a good idea.

The wide beach, Cape Lookout in the distance.
The trail that leads to Cape Lookout point.
Thick forests of mussels grew on the rocky cliffs along the beach.
The sun sets as the waves rolled in at Cape Lookout beach.

Cape Perpetua National Forest

This campground is situated along a creek that runs the length of a small shaded valley. The sites were well spaced along the one road that leads both in and out of the campground (no loops). There are hiking trails up the valley to the Giant Spruce Tree and out to the coast, where there is a nice visitor's center with maps and information about the area. There were multiple natural wonders to explore there: A blow hole, tide pools, a beautiful uncrowded beach and the interesting Devil's Churn. A long crack in the volcanic rock allows the waves to roll way up the hillside until the ever narrowing crack causes the water to break and slosh around. It reminded me of the old washing machine we had before the water saving front loader models became the norm.

The base of the Giant Spruce, with Mark and the dogs for scale.

The cove and beach at Cape Perpetua
The Devil's Churn.
Why does the Devil get credit for all the cool things in nature?

There was much to find in the tide pools at Cape Perpetua

Cape Blanco State Park

Now this, this was MY favorite of them all. A beautiful campground set in the trees along a bluff that overlooks a long narrow stretch of sand. A picturesque lighthouse, so perfectly placed on the windswept grassy bluff it looked to be a painted backdrop. There was a road leading from the campground down to the beach (if you needed it, we walked down) with bluff side benches available to watch the spectacular sunset. There was also a historic ranch house there, the Patrick Hughes House, with friendly docents that were eager to give you a tour and share the history of the area. It was quiet, comfortable, beautiful, perfect. It didn't hurt that it was also warm and wind-free that day. When I am having a bad day at work I think about this place. Just writing about it makes me smile.

Our campsite was huge, and I swear, one of the twelve campground hosts must have vacuumed it before our arrival, it was so clean.
Even the roads in the park were gorgeous.
The road down to the Patrick Hughes House.
The picture perfect Cape Blanco Lighthouse.

The sun sets over Cape Blanco, making for a stunning last night on the Oregon Coast.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018: The Rearview

I was paging through our pictures from 2018 and realized it can be summed up nicely with a pictorial essay. Here's the year in a nutshell:


Mark stands forlornly at the locked gate at Pt. Reyes National Park Lighthouse stairs. Notice all the other unsuspecting tourists gobbed up on the platform behind him. 

It started with a government shutdown. Sound familiar anyone? We went out to Point Reyes National Park on our annual trip to the lighthouse and when we arrived found the gate padlocked shut. Due to the government shutdown at midnight that very night, all national parks had been closed. It was a gorgeous day out there though, and we made the best of it by picnicking on the beach and watching the surfers dodge the elephant seals.


A Green Sea Turtle cruises by and gives u a chin nod.

A fabulous trip to Maui had us snorkeling every day with sea turtles, sharks and whales and ended with a new ambition/obsession for Mark: become a helicopter pilot. 


We took pity on the new owner and cleaned it inside and out. We were a little worried that the dog hair was the only thing holding it together.

A fond farewell to a partner that had been with us for over 28 years. Our Honda Civic had been our car since before we were married and taken us on many adventures. It was a sad day, and I still miss having a vehicle I can park next to the grocery cart corral without a care.


April brought an abundance of sweet peas.

A bumper crop of flowers in the garden signified spring's arrival. We finally had a normal rain year and the flowers were deeply appreciative.


Turns out the road to Tibbets Arch, our first campsite before descending onto the White Rim Trail, was much more difficult than any of the actual White Rim road. We lost our trailer hitch electrical assembly and some of the paint on our back bumper to a sharp drop off on the way out.
Our annual trip to Overland Expo was a launching point for another Utah adventure with friends. The White Rim Trail was even better done in three days, and a lot less scary for me the second time around. 


Ginger, snickerdoodles and chocolate chip were just a few of the flavors coming out of the oven in June.

Ah, June. Do I hear wedding bells? Turns out the latest trend in weddings is to have cookies instead of (or in addition to) cake. Two of my co-workers asked if I would make cookies for their weddings, and who was I to say no? After countless test batches, sampling flavors and measuring yield per batch, it was the big day. An industry was born and I was unable to even look at butter for weeks afterward.


Gold Lake in Lakes Basin Recreation Area. The smoke shut us out of Yosemite, and kept us from doing a planned hike to the Sierra Buttes. Maybe next year...

If 2018 had a signature smell, it would be smoke. Wildfires raging in Yosemite closed the park the day before we were to leave on our annual camping trip there, so we improvised by going north to Plumas-Eureka State Park. It was a lovely time, perfect weather but for all the smoke in the air. We thought it was coming from the Yosemite fire, but while we were happily, obliviously out of cell phone range, Lake County was going up in flames in what turned out to be the largest wildfire in state history. It didn't matter which way the wind blew, the smoke was settling over us regardless.


It was time. Since the beginning of the drought in 2013, the lawn in our front yard had steadily turned from grass to an interesting assemblage of "native" plants. Dandelions, privet, oxalis, and of course crabgrass had taken over our entire yard, embarrassing us and annoying our neighbors. We decided to reduce the lawn footprint and plant drought resistant borders, but first had to move all of our irrigation lines and sprinkler heads. Somehow when we put the lawn in twenty years ago this type of work was much easier. Every night we went to bed and listened to our joints moan in pain. Getting old sucks.


A drive up the coast of Oregon capped off our camping season. It was a spectacular trip, one for the books, with perfect weather, uncrowded campgrounds and cheese. Lots of cheese.


Sans-camper, our truck doesn't look all that big. Still hell to park in a busy lot though.
For our anniversary, we decided to rent a cabin in Tahoe before it got too cold. Autumn in Tahoe is  probably my favorite season–still sunny days, chilly nights and best of all, hardly any people. We had a great time walking the dogs in the forest, visiting the ice cream shop every afternoon and soaking in the hot tub under the stars at night. Although we weren't camping, we made a run up to our favorite camp spot in the mountains just to say hello. The trees were brilliant yellow but the air was nippy. I was glad we had a cabin to go home to every night.


This pic is actually from September, but this represents about all that happened in November.
Let's see. The Camp Fire wiped out Paradise and sent a plume of smoke over Sonoma County for days. In only a year and a month, that fire wiped out Santa Rosa's previous record number of lives and dwellings lost. We were forced to stay indoors for two weeks because of the alarmingly unhealthy air quality, but felt guilty complaining knowing what the poor people of Paradise were going through. We missed out on a Thanksgiving trip with our buddies to El Camino del Diablo because we planned to spend the holidays with our families, but we both got the flu right before Thanksgiving and were unable to enjoy our favorite meal of the year. It was cold, it was rainy, and there was no camping or adventuring happening. Not a great month.


Ice plant, as far as the eye can see.
Sonoma Coast State Park
Once we started feeling better, we started to enjoy the season a bit. Miracles started to occur, such as finishing Christmas shopping with two weeks to spare, and rain that happened during the week leaving the sun for the weekends to enjoy. We took a trip out to the coast just before Christmas and found ourselves almost alone, on a wind-free, sunny gorgeous day. How could we not stop for fish and chips? The year was ending on a high note and we expect next year to follow suit. 

To all of you, here's to a safe, happy and adventurous 2019!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Oregon Coast Part I: Redwoods and Lumberjacks

This morning I woke up with an icy nose, a sure sign that autumn has actually arrived in my neighborhood. It's the start of the long slow descent into winter and all it brings with it: Thanksgiving with it's brown food and tradition (my favorite holiday, somehow traitorous for being positioned at the beginning of my least favorite time of year); Christmas with it's festive decorations and holiday lights to fight the dark gloom of Pacific Standard Time; then on to New Year's Eve, always slightly melancholy for me though I can't put my finger on exactly why. The true descent is after that: the cold nights, the gloomy gray days, the calendar refusing to turn it's page into warmth and sun. Around January 15th I start browsing websites for the best airfare to Hawaii, and park myself on that webcam pointed at the beach in Maui, the hypnotic sound of waves lapping on warm shores lulling my chilled self. When I close my eyes I can feel the tropical breeze and sea spray on my face. When I open them I realize it was just the heater vent kicking on mixing with my salty tears of despair.

Did I mention I hate the cold? Perhaps I'm not the only one.

Although California is known for it's sun and endless summer, those perky songs you've heard were really written about Southern California. Up here in the north, it's not exactly surfing weather all year round. Sure, compared to Montana we're downright tropical, but we've got our share of below freezing nights and cool cloudy days. I feel guilty hoping for warm weather when we could really use the rain. Perhaps if I wished for warm rain? Who am I kidding. I'm screwed.

I'm smart enough to realize I need something to look forward to if I'm to survive another winter, so we're in the midst of planning a trip to the desert in February. I think I'll live. In the meantime, I have memories of a great summer spent camping in the Sierras and an absolutely magical trip up the Oregon coast we took in September.

On a summer break during college, I took a trip north with my boyfriend at the time, camping all the way up the coast until we reached Canada. I had such fond memories of that trip (though strangely, none for said boyfriend) that I had always wanted to do it again. Mark was game, so early in September we made it happen. I must say, I had an even better time with Mark (much to his relief).

We dubbed it "The 101 Trip" since we'd be traveling Highway 101 the entire way. Our ultimate goal was to reach Tillamook Creamery, one of the fondest of fond memories from my long ago trip. A tour of a creamery with free cheese samples at the end? How can it get any better?

First stop was the Avenue of the Giants, camping in among the tallest trees in the world. California redwoods are amazing and these trees are some of my first memories as a kid. Standing next to one as big around as the family car, looking up 30 stories to the top waving in the breeze, the trees were almost impossible to comprehend. Most of them were there long before I was born, and they will be there (with any luck) long after I die. There's something assuring about that, knowing they'll be watching over things for us when we no longer can.

We camped in Hidden Springs Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Set along the south fork of the Eel river, it's a beautiful campground with well spaced sites that allow for privacy and quiet camping. It was a great way to start our trip, watching the huge swaying trees above us as we ate dinner. Nothing quite equals a meal prepared on a thick wooden picnic table, eaten while being pelted with redwood needles as they rain down from the above. What bowl of pasta isn't improved by tree bits? We sat up late that night, squinting up through the narrow gap in the trees trying to spot a satellite passing overhead. One of our traditions, we can't turn in for the night until we've spied one.

Our campsite was a short hike down from the road.
It overlooked a deep ravine filled with trees and chittering squirrels that kept our dogs on alert.
We parked on the road and carried our dining room down to our redwood suite.

A relaxing day in camp, Hidden Springs CG
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
It was a quiet night. We got up early and went for a run before breaking camp, trying to get a little exercise in before our day of driving. Luckily, the campground had brand new showers right across from our site. A few quarters later we were clean and ready to roll.

I had always wanted to stop in and eat at the Samoa Cookhouse, the stuff of legends in my family. My dad once took a two day motorcycle trip with the express purpose of having breakfast there. Having passed it by multiple times during my life, I wasn't going to let it happen again. I didn't have trouble convincing Mark; turns out he had the same idea.

Photo Credit: Samoa Cookhouse
Located on a spit just west of Eureka California, Samoa Cookhouse started as the Hammond Lumber Company cookhouse in the late 1800s, serving the loggers and longshoremen as they systematically chopped down the redwoods and shipped them down to San Francisco and points beyond. The company kitchen served up three hot meals every day but Sunday evenings, when the lumberman got leftovers. If you've ever heard "eat like a lumberjack" you can imagine the size of the servings.

Photo Credit: Humboldt State University Library
When the lumber industry wound down in the 1960s, there was talk of closing the cookhouse. The head cook wouldn't hear of it, and talked the company owner into opening the dining room to the public. It's our great fortune that he did. The kitchen has been cranking out these huge meals ever since it opened in 1890, 128 years of caloric history.

The dining room
(Photo Credit: Samoa
Round 1
They have a set menu (and price) for every meal at the Cookhouse. They post it on a white board every day and you can decide if you want it or you can leave, none of those namby-pamby choices found at those hoity-toity restaurants. The food is impressive in quantity as well as quality. French toast was on the menu that day and I guess they figured out how to make it after 128 years of practice, because we thought it was the best we ever had. Huge slices of house made bread trundled out on a cart with pitchers of maple syrup and a side of sausage and scrambled eggs. Did I mention every breakfast starts with biscuits and sausage gravy? Not ordinarily something I'd order, but hot damn they were good! Everything is washed down with the jug of coffee and orange juice that comes with the meal. By the end, we barely had the energy to push ourselves away from the long communal table.

Stuffed to the gills, we tottered into the museum adjoining the dining room and looked with glazed eyes at the tools of the lumber trade hung on the walls and display cases. I have no idea how those lumberjacks were able to get back to work after eating like this, but apparently they did with efficiency. There are very few old-growth redwood stands left in the state of California.

Photo Credit: Pacific Lumber Co. Scotia, CA

If it's possible to feel sick and silly-happy at the same time, that's how we felt when we left. The place is as addictive as it is bad for you. We were ready to go back and do it again for dinner–we heard they were having fried chicken that night...

But onward and upward, we were on our way to Oregon and a little indigestion wasn't going to stop us! Pants a little tighter and cholesterol a bit higher, after several attempts we were able to hoist ourselves into the truck and were on the road again.